Notes From The Program Director | Week of May 12th, 2023
Notes From The Program Director
Week of May 12th 2023
Toronto dumped rain during my stay there for the Hot Docs Film Festival, but while I hadn’t come prepared with rainboots, my soggy feet did not keep me from enjoying the loads of wonderful documentaries at the festival and connecting with filmmakers and industry folk. Just a few of my favorites at the festival include a warm and informative doc about the irresistible Joan Baez; a doc about an underdog soccer team in Sweden made-up of Kurdish refugees who beat the odds and climbed through divisions to national prominence; an equally heart-rending and inspiring doc about the young people in Hong Kong who defied a global superpower and started the recent Umbrella Revolution; a thrilling doc about a young Siksika woman who enters one of the most dangerous horse races in the world, the Indian Relay; and a moving film about the only medical doctor in the poorest county in Georgia, who gives her life and her inheritance to serve those who need healthcare. Those are just a handful of the films I loved, and in our post-festival analysis, Jane Julian, my Doctober co-curator, and I are incredibly pleased to report that our potential Doctober line-up is beginning to take on definite shape. October will be here before we know it, so stay tuned for more Doctober news, especially towards late summer and early fall!
It’s still spring for now at the Pickford, however (in spite of the hot, summer-y temperatures!), and this Friday, Kelly Reichardt’s marvelous filmShowing Upcontinues for one final week as does the fantastic Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi documentary,Wild Life, about the extraordinary conservationists Kris and Doug Tomkins. And brand new to our screens this week are two superb films that are, deservedly, receiving some of the highest critical praise of the year:JoylandandR.M.N
Joylandis the feature film debut from Pakistani filmmaker Saim Sadiq, and in addition to being the first film from Pakistan to be shortlisted for an Oscar, the first Pakistani film to win the Best International Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards, and the first Pakistani film to compete as an official selection at Cannes, where it won the jury prize in the “Un Certain Regard” category, it’s made the news because it’s been banned in Sadiq’s home country for daring to defy binary gender norms. The film’s main story follows Haider (Ali Junejo) who lives with his wife, his father, and his brother’s family, and who, desperate for work, ultimately finds a job at a burlesque show, where he trains to be a back-up dancer for Biba, a trans woman with whom Haider falls in love and from whom Haider learns new ways of thinking, seeing, and being, ways that challenge the rigid patriarchal order of their society. Haider’s story is moving and nuanced, but it’s not just his story the film is interested in, and its strengths lie in the ensemble cast and in the ways the film embraces the complexity of all the characters, particularly the women. We follow Biba (brilliantly and delicately played by Alina Khan) and the particular challenges she faces as a trans woman in her personal and professional life, and it is striking that, of all the characters, in spite of the obstacles she faces, it is she who seems to know most certainly who she is and what she wants. Heartache punctuates her life, but there is pure joy in watching her live in her certainty and her strength.
And the other women’s stories--Haider’s wife, his sister-in-law, the next-door neighbor -- devastatingly and heartrendingly reveal the ways in which cisgender women struggle to be themselves and struggle for dignity in a world that denies their value and relegates them to traditional gender roles. But like the joy we see in the character of Biba, the film is also punctuated by moments of transcendence and hope. In one sequence Haider’s wife and sister-in-law visit Joyland, the amusement park from which the film takes its title, and the beauty and ecstasy of their faces as they spin among the bright lights, together in total freedom in the private space of the carnival car, indicate the possibility of a better world. For them, for all of us.
R.M.N.is the newest film from Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, whom many of you may remember best from his brilliant 2007 film,4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. This newest film is set in a small village in modern-day Transylvania, where Romanians, ethnic Hungarians, and German-speakers, have lived together in relative peace for some years. In this context, however, new pressures of poverty have led some from the village to immigrate to other countries to find work, even while non-native immigrants move into their village, seeking work in the biggest business in town, the local bakery, and taking wages that the locals won't accept. Some locals embrace these new immigrants; others are suspicious and jealous and seek to force them out. The resulting film is a delicately detailed look at what happens when xenophobia, poverty, and small-town religiously-motivated politics collide, and, indeed, as indicated by the title --"R.M.N," is the Romanian word for MRI -- the film might serve as a kind of medical cross-section examination of a particular society.
And while the film is highly specific to Romania and to an Eastern European context, it packs a punch that could not feel more relevant to America today. At one point in the film, in fact, there's a town meeting -- stunningly filmed, all in one-take -- and the comments made by the anti-immigrant folk who want to send the new workers packing, could have been lifted directly from the anti-immigrant commentary as heard on outlets like Fox News. It's a sobering film and a fantastic film, and like4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days--which was a film about two friends pursuing an illegal abortion--Mungiu's newest effort demonstrates his deft, perceptive, and devastating ability to show us ourselves.
In addition to our theatrical runs, we also have some wonderful standalone film events for you this coming week, including the delightfully insaneVelocipastor, chosen by projectionist Mchyla for ourThird Eyeseries, -- you’ll perhaps never see pastors or dinosaurs in quite the same way ever again; the always-joyous ABBA-tasticMamma Miafor ourMother’s Dayspecial;National Theater Live’s production of the still stunningly relevantOthello; and a very special two-night screening of Doctober 2022 favorite,Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire.
Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire, presented by our partners at Whatcom Million Trees Project, Whatcom Conservation District, and RE Sources, will be screening on Tuesday, May 16, and Thursday, May 18. Including the voices of climate experts, Indigenous people, and fire survivors, the film examines the fire in Paradise, California, as well as recent wildfires in Oregon, California, and Colorado, and helps viewers understand the new reality in which we live and the future we must prepare for. On May 16, Michael Feerer of Whatcom Million Trees will provide an intro to the film, and he and Aneka Sweeney of Whatcom Conservation District will be holding a post-film discussion. On May 18, Michael Feerer will offer an introduction, and he will host a post-film panel discussion with two guests: film producer and Fire Safe Communities Director, Ralph Bloemers, and Alex Harris of RE Sources. We are grateful for this important opportunity to bringElementalback to our screens and honored and pleased to have such wonderful community partners to help us engage with the sobering and essential information the film provides.